Natural England (NE) has once again come under fire for delays to Countryside Stewardship payments, with one farmer claiming the organisation had got its priorities ‘all wrong’.
Robert Stevens, who farms 56 hectares (140 acres) at Chaddesley Corbett, Worcestershire, said he found it ‘incredible’ that NE was already advertising for next year’s schemes despite failure to sort out the current delays.
He said he was now considering whether to drop out of the scheme.
“The problem is you cannot cherry pick the agreement and what you do or do not do – you have to do all you send in or none at all," he said.
“We were in the higher tier agreement but they would not let us apply for the mid-tier until our higher level had run out. It left us to plant bird seed at our own expense last winter because it was a shame not to keep it going.”
Mr Stevens slammed what he called ‘totally bad management’ after NE failed to confirm his mid-tier agreement and in doing so, delaying planting of the AB9 crop, winter bird food.
Why NE did not prioritise those with bird seed, he questioned, was ‘incredible’, and due to delays since the end of November, Mr Stevens said he had little hope the payment would be pushed through by the June 15 planting cut-off.
Natural England said it would not extend the planting window.
“We have loved doing the higher tier scheme and to let it all go would be a very hard decision, but financially it would be the one to do,” added Mr Stevens.
“If you leave it right into June anyway there is very little chance you would produce any reasonable crop, but all the birds we have built up over the last 11 years are relying on the feed."
An NE spokesman said: "We have issued the majority of Countryside Stewardship advance payments. We know how important these payments are for farmers and that is why we are working hard to process the remaining cases as soon as possible.”
Additional staff have been brought in to issue the remaining payments, he added.